Tuesday, June 19, 2012

(88)World Without You by Joshua Henkin

The World Without Yo, u 

Publication Date: June 19, 2012
Pages: 352


It is the Fourth  of July 2005 and the Frankel family is gathering at the family Summer home to celebrate.  But not in the way that you would think.  They are gathering to celebrate the life of Leo Frankel, the youngest child of David and Marilyn and the only son of the family.  Leo was killed as a foreign correspondent in Iraq exactly one year ago. The family is coming from all over the world to be there for Leo's memorial.

Noelle is the one coming from furthest away.  Noelle is an Orthodox Jew living in Jerusalem with her husband and their sons.  She was the last one to see Leo alive.  Clarissa and Lily both live on the East Coast, and Thisbe, Leo's widow, is flying in from California. All of them gather at the family Summer home after a year of dealing with the insurmountable grief in their own way.  The one thing they discover is that the family unit they once thought was ironclad is coming apart at the seams, as if Leo was the glue holding them together and with him gone, the family just falls apart.  Divorce and infertility are just a couple of issues that pop up over the few days as they prepare themselves to say their final goodbyes.

I have seen several comparisons of The World Without You to This Is Where I Leave You. I can understand why they would make such comparisons.   Both books are about a Jewish family, (both families have lapsed members) who have gathered because of the death of a loved one.  Both books examine the relationships of the family members and how they deal with that grief.  There is one major difference between the books, This Is Where I Leave You was really quite funny.  The World Without You, not so much.  In fact, I had a real hard time even liking some of the characters, let alone finding any humor in their stories.

Bottom line, The World Without You  is a very well written examination of what grief can do to the family dynamic, but it can sometimes seem like it is the never ending story. The critics are just raving about this book, but frankly I wasn't all that impressed.  I did not find myself overcome with any kind of emotion, in fact the only emotion I felt was impatience. I found some of the characters are less likable than others, but isn't that par for the course in any family? I found the "politics" of this family in direct contradiction with my own, and I think that is where some of my impatience generated.  Sometimes watching the characters deal with their grief almost feels like an intrusion, and that can be a bit uncomfortable. But overall this novel about families and grief is one that many of us can relate to, I mean we all can relate to grief and loss, no?

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I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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